June 1st, 2014 • Ross Martin
When I was a teenager, my dad handed me the book most dads hand kids who don't know what they want to do with their careers. Twenty-five years later, I'm still slowly figuring out what color my parachute is.
What we want to be when we grow up is something I talk about all the time with my dad, and also with my friend Gary Bolles, whose dad actually wrote What Color Is Your Parachute.
Amy Friedman, who sits on the executive team at Scratch, taught me to think about "career" in terms of bodies of work. I like that a lot. Helps me make sense of my biggest and most meaningful endeavors, and how they fit together to comprise a life's work.
It came up last week when I was spending time with Chris Poole. Most people know him better as "Moot," the legendary (he is all of 26 years old) founder of 4chan and champion of anonymity. Moot and I were talking about his next step after shutting down his startup, DrawQuest.
Moot posted on his blog after a much older friend asked him to think about himself at the age of 50: "What would I be excited to tell my younger self about the life I’d led?" I find that question about as exciting, important, paralyzing and naive as anything else you could ask me about what will happen ten years from now, or even five.
Bodies of work are like self-ographies you don't realize you're constructing. Until much later. We're too close to a subject in motion. We're lucky if, at close range, our bodies of work distinguish themselves from one another enough to make any sense of them.
I've done two bodies of work at Viacom, far as I can tell. The first was mtvU, a grand experiment in 2004, we set out to super-serve college students with a network of their own, focusing on music, original programming and events. Before YouTube was born! We became the first network to simulcast on the web, the first to go completely tapeless, the first to send 3 college students to Darfur, and much more. Our team blew past its goals years ahead of plan, and the network was a success.
That made possible my second body of work at Viacom, which I'm still in the midst of: Scratch.
I'm super proud of both.
Between the two, I ran what was called MTV360, a development and production team. I don't consider that a body of work, per se. More like an arm. I learned stuff, I led stuff, I made stuff, but my time there didn't really add much definition (for me or for the company). It wasn't wasted, it was just a year of gearing up for the next body of work (even if I didn't know it at the time).
For Moot, it's exciting to think about what his next body of work will be. And to look back and mark where one ended and the next began. In the meantime, it's really great to read his blog and appreciate the candor. Makes you want to go on the journey with him as he learns to dance, to cook, to garden, to fly. Maybe even to parachute.
Does a body of work have a beginning, middle and end? Not sure they're always so linear.
Must they be singular, mutually exclusive? I don't think so. Sometimes they seem to overlap, coincide, mash up.
If you're a music artist, one of your albums might constitute a body of work. Or perhaps it's the last 3 you made that all add up to one body of work. Critics will have opinions, fans will decide, but only you know.
And now the big question, the one we all struggle with in times of transition: How do you know when you've completed one body of work and are ready to begin the next?
If you ask me, you just know.
May 24th, 2014 • Ross Martin
I had lunch with some senior leaders of a large company, one we all know well. A company that's run by people with just enough hubris to not realize they're going to be out of work, one way or another, in the next 12 months (at most).
Why? Not because they're not smart or talented or charismatic. The fact that they're all 3 of those things, not to mention arrogant, is probably why they've gotten this far to begin with.
You know what, at this point in my life I can live with the arrogance, I expect it from a certain breed of corporate exec. (Plus, they paid for lunch!)
What bothers me is their certitude. The fact that — in the midst of the most complicated media landscape in the history of time – they've decided they know where everything's headed. Despite the likelihood (in my estimation) that they're wrong, they're so absolutely sure, they end enquiry and charge forth to the land of milk and honey.
You'd think with decades under our fancy belts we'd have most of the answers to the challenges of the universe by now.
Turns out, we don't. Not even close.
In fact, those of us who know what we're talking about know that we're lucky if we wake up in the morning and remember what we don't know. Even luckier if we find ways to succeed, as we spend our time trying to figure it all out with other smart and creative people who also know they don't have all the answers.
Leaders like the guys I had lunch with are so driven by their own conviction that they'll lead armies of hundreds or thousands to the farthest shore — to drown. Like lemmings:
Here's the sad thing about lemmings: Even after leading the masses on a devout journey to certain death…some inevitably survive. Only to live on and lead more and more lemmings to their doom.
Make sure you don't work for a lemming.
May 18th, 2014 • Ross Martin
May 16th, 2014 • Ross Martin
It was 9am on a beautiful Friday morning in Brooklyn, four years ago, the first ever Viacommunity Day, a day of service for all employees of our company. I was walking up to my wife's art studio with several bags of bagels. She was expecting about 50 people that morning.
Neither of us expected our CEO to be among them.
But sure enough, there he was. The first one there. Boom.
And, just like she's done wth hundreds of my colleagues since, there's Jordana, teaching him how to knit.
What was she teaching him to knit? A prosthetic breast for a cancer survivor in need.
He was focused, he picked it up quickly, and with that, "Knit-A-Boob" went from a vision in Jordana's mind to a real event, something that has already made a real difference in the lives of so many, and something anybody can do.
Hundreds of new and experienced knitters joined together to learn about breast cancer prevention, while knitting hand-dyed cashmere prosthetics for women who have lost their breasts.
"Knit-A-Boob" has inspired so many others to act. Last year, for example, Camila Alves and CAA hosted a Knit-A-Boob event in Los Angeles. Jordana and breastcancer.org were there, teaching 75 Latina highschoolers to knit and to keep themselves healthy. Dozens of similar events have popped up across the country.
It's a special thing — for Viacom, for Jordana and for me, her husband, watching her gather a community of knitters to help teach and encourage our volunteers to produce these beautiful, personal objects. Here's how it works:
And here's Jordana, welcoming all the volunteers to the Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn, this morning:
Today, 150 people completed 25 new pairs of knitted boobs. Over the next month, Jordana and her team of knitters will complete any unfinished sets and add them to the pile.
Wanna learn how to make these puppies or host an event like this of your own? Send an email to email@example.com.
May 5th, 2014 • Ross Martin
On the rain's third day, the ants came with purpose and simple missions.
Ants who are always themselves and nothing more.